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Progressive Disjuncture
by Kim Petersen
November 16, 2004

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Norman Solomon is a valuable voice within the progressive sphere. His thoughtful comments on the corporate media and global justice issues are enlightening and compelling.  However, Solomon’s recent offering features a take on progressivism that differs from how some other progressives view matters.


Solomon laments the “horrific racket” of “right-wing trumpets” but his depiction of the right-wing cacophony is quite exclusive.


Solomon furcates the enemy into different camps. He writes that the Democratic Party “is not our main enemy.” [italics added] This “main enemy is the right-wing power of the Republican Party.” It is not the Republican Party that is singled out but the “right-wing power” of the GOP. Presumably the Democratic Party is bereft of “right wing power.” Solomon warns, “[A]nachronistic fury at the Democratic Party is not going to get us very far.” [italics added]


Why is this fury anachronistic? It seems this fury is very palpable now. Otherwise why did the Democrats come out on the wrong side of a rigged election? The Democrats basically told progressive voters to take a flying leap off a high bridge. While unreasoning anger is wasteful, anger itself might be cathartic. Why shouldn’t progressives be furious at the Democrats as well?


Pining for a more liberal past is also “not going to get us very far.”


The 2004 election featured an incredibly questionable strategy of backing the Democratic Party presidential candidate John Kerry despite his self-professed abhorrence for the liberal label. The so-called Anybody-but-Bush (ABB) groups sacrificed progressive ideals to defeat one of the duopoly candidates based on the morally noisome lesser-evilism. The outcome of this strategy is apparent. It was a colossal failure. Rigged voting aside, the greater evil was returned to the presidency with a supposedly greater mandate.


How can Solomon bemoan “ideological fanatics” lying the US into aggression and “escalating carnage in Iraq” when his candidate promised to add 40,000 more troops to the war effort?


Solomon correctly identifies the “urgent task [facing progressives] to develop political coalitions that can effectively push back against the dominant right-wing madness.” But the Democratic Party is part of this “madness.” How else can the Democratic-insider-orchestrated shenanigans against Howard Dean and the marginalization of Dennis Kucinich be explained? The Democrats tried every untoward trick to thwart the candidacy of independent candidate Ralph Nader. Is this progressivism? Was excluding Nader and other candidates from the presidential debates reflective of progressive values?


Is sidling up to one half of the corporate political duopoly an effective and progressive way to “develop political coalitions”? Solomon now calls for an “independent” progressive party so one is led to conclude that this is an admission of a wrongheaded ABB strategy in 2004.


Solomon calls on a progressive movement to prevent right-wing appointments to the judiciary, “especially for the Supreme Court. No compromise.”


The “no compromise” on progressive principles is agreeable, but where was this attitude when Kerry was being supported? Kerry was the candidate that said he wouldn’t rule out anti-abortion judges being appointed to the courts during his presidency. This is not to advocate that anti-abortion judges should be excluded from higher courts, as this is a morally complicated subject. Nonetheless, one wonders just what progressive values was it that the avowedly non-liberal Kerry could have been expected to uphold?


Solomon sees the need for improved ongoing communication with the general public, clear advocacy for social justice and peace, and putting “far more pressure on elected officials” as key planks that progressives must address. It may be flogging a dead horse but why wasn’t putting pressure on Kerry a key concept during the campaign?


It is suggested here that progressives dispense with euphemisms about the George Bush administration. Solomon aptly characterizes news of the Bush administration as a “horror show” replete with a “theocratic stench.” But this regime is not merely “promoting policies with fascistic elements”; it is fascist.


Solomon writes, “[The neocons’] domestic agenda is filled with repressive measures, and their extreme militarism shows no sign of abating. The Pentagon’s new murderous assault on Fallujah is a byproduct of the neocon grip on Washington’s levers of power.”  But, this is with the imprimatur of the Democrats. This is an important fact that is omitted. The Democrats have fallen in line with much of the neocons’ political agenda.


Solomon contends, “We support the troops; we want them to stop killing and being killed. We want them to come home.” [italics added] It is important that a diverse progressive movement unite and develop a set of agreed-upon core principles. It is not possible at the moment to talk about a “we” or “us” in the progressive movement. This writer contends that the actions of US and other occupation troops in Iraq cannot and should not be supported. How does one differentiate between the actions and the perpetrators of the actions? Do progressives genuinely support the military personnel who drop 1,000 and 2,000-pound bombs on civilian women and children in Fallujah? Do progressives genuinely support US soldiers killing, raping, and torturing prisoners in the US gulags around the world? Do progressives support soldiers who carry out orders to serially violate the Geneva Conventions (laws of war that protect them if they fall into a precarious situation with the enemy) in what amounts to a war crimes extravaganza? The troops have a duty to uphold morality as much as any other person. Indeed the Nuremberg Tribunal’s Demand makes this clear:


Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore [individuals] have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring.


The US troops should be held to account for the war crimes they commit as much as any other alleged war criminal. Violators of international law should not be shielded from their criminality. It is the utmost hypocrisy for the US to bring Slobodan Milošević and others before an international tribunal and evince utter contempt for the International Criminal Court when they are alleged to have violated statutes of war.


It might be stated that it is time to move on from the November election and there is a kernel of truth to this. But the lessons of the progressive failure in 2004 must be learned.


Solomon calls for resistance to a rightward shift in the US. The need to create new alliances across the human spectrum is identified. No argument is presented against this. But a question emerges: why the splitting of the progressive vote in the last election?


Progressives ought to take to heart former US President Abraham Lincoln’s paraphrase of the words of Jesus Christ: "A house divided against itself cannot stand." It seems much more logical for progressives to present a united electoral front and leave the duopoly to split votes among themselves.


As Solomon states the electoral system is in need of a major overhaul. But an overhaul of the electoral system is merely scratching at the surface. Society as it is presently constituted is in dire need of revolutionary change.


All progressives, however, can surely agree on Solomon’s stated imperative: no surrender, the struggle continues.

Kim Petersen is a writer living in Nova Scotia, Canada. He can be reached at:

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